The feeling that the Government appears to be supine in the face of huge chunk of forest land being not only under the illegal possession but the control of land grabbers in the length and breadth of Jammu and Kashmir, is becoming more perceptible. Not that, efforts on the part of Government have not been made to repossess the grabbed land but they seem to be insufficient and ineffective in containing this loot being not commensurate with the extent of the challenge posed by thieving scarce forest land. Decidedly, we must go in for stringent laws to protect and salvage the otherwise dwindling forest land.
It is shocking that a whooping area of 141787 kanals of forest land is still under encroachment of land thieves in different parts of Jammu region while 105299 kanals of such land is under the possession of land stealers in Kashmir. The extent of unscrupulousness and highhandedness of encroachers can be seen in their violently resisting the moves of the State Forest Department authorities who try to rid such encroached land from their clutches .That speaks precisely as to why as much as 2.50 lac kanals of forest is still under the grabbers . Such an unfortunate but a diehard mentality must be a cause of worry to those in administration. It is believed that absence of prompt and timely assistance from the police is leading to land thieves getting emboldened and added to such a scenario is, the political patronage accentuating the problem. It is resulting in such hardened habitual elements spreading the realm of their land grabbing activities as they wish.
It is also believed that forest fire incidents, at the hands of such elements, are causing huge damage to the green cover which broadly is sensitive in nature for sustenance of environment and the human habitat being subservient to its protection and preservation. How much damage has been caused and continues to be causing losses, can be gauged by the data and statistics in this regard. Let us not go very far back but during 2015-16 itself, 113 forest fire incidents affected 207.25 hectares of forest area in Kashmir region while during the same period, 101 such incidents involving 134.68 hectares of forest areas took place in Jammu region. During 2016-17, there took place a spurt in incidents of forest fires considerably in both the regions of the State. In Kashmir region, 360 fire incidents affecting a large area of 1720 hectares of forest area took place while as during the same period, 415 fire incidents took place in Jammu involving a huge area of nearly 859 hectares of precious forest land.
This is merciless plunder of forest wealth which grows slowly but once destroyed within hours, cannot be replenished easily but only after putting in a lot of hard work with a missionary zeal over years together. Besides, nature has its own irreversible rules of pace with which the green gold “grows” again which cannot be interfered into by any human effort. Astonishingly, we have not heard any arrests made and the culprits identified, exposed, shamed and punished. This has resulted our over 3000 hectares of forest cover getting devastated without anyone paying for it right through his nose. This lends credence to the dire need of there being stringent laws in Jammu and Kashmir to deal sternly with the land grabbers and encroachers of forest land.
The Forest Department should, therefore, legally be empowered in such a position so as to enforce the punitive action against those who are indulging in its plunder, poaching of wild habitat, encroaching and grabbing its land for residential or farming activities and setting its vast areas afire. There should be no influence, pressure, consideration, cry for discrimination on caste or religious basis or political interference in the enforcement of the proposed stringent laws. Tourism is the basic important main sector directly linked with the green wealth and there is dire need to preserve this wealth to encourage and promote tourism.
The Government, we are afraid, appears to be not inclined towards seriously protecting the forests. Meager funds are kept at the disposal of the Forest Department for maintenance and increasing green cover despite the fact that huge areas of forest land are utilized for purposes other than forestry every year on back to back basis. On the contrary, the Government generally asks the Forest Department for utilization of funds released by Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) which even otherwise are meager. The Government is well advised to bring forests back from the ultimate brink.